Michael Link is not happy, and he has written about it. He has been receiving marketing emails for a product that you already own from a company that ought to know better. In this case, the unhappinesss is with Adobe, which persists in trying to sell him Photoshop Elements for an overinflated price when he has not only bought it already, but actually registered his copy with Adobe. Amazon is another offender, with adverts for products that you browsed once following you for weeks, even if you actually bought the product long since, and have moved on to something else.
These companies are not impressing customers, because they are not only not selling, but also missing an opportunity to sell appropriately, and even putting customers off future purchases or browsing because of the consequences. This “artificial stupidity” is the result of careless automation, and poor use of customer intelligence. But building customer intelligence does not have to be like this. Better use of customer information and analytics can enable improved insights, and better customer experience, both of which will improve sales.
From ‘blasts’ to conversations
Old-style email marketing involved a scattergun or ‘blast’ approach. You sent sales emails to all your customers and potential customers, with the same message. The philosophy was simple: the more the merrier, because if it was a percentage game, you would make more sales with more emails.
But as competition for customers’ attention has hotted up, blasts have become less and less effective. Personalising each email helps, but most of us can still spot a standard sales message from a mile away. At SAS, the marketing team has moved away from this approach to a customer journey-focused one. This enables communications to be targeted to the right stage of the customer’s journey. Rather than ‘blasts’, marketing now focuses on conversations. Segmentation techniques are used to identify the stage of the journey, and automation enabled analytically-driven, faster, and more effective communications.
The key is to understand both context and timing. In other words, customers need different communications at different stages of their journey. But each customer journey is also different. There is, in fact, a particular ‘sweet spot’ or moment of truth for every customer. For example, some will want only to buy when the need is urgent, but others will want to anticipate need.
This may sound like a challenge, but it is actually not that hard to identify this sweet spot. It is all about focusing on knowing your customer. With the huge amounts of data that we have at our command, and high quality analytics, this is relatively straightforward. So what are the most important things to do to improve customer intelligence? I think there are four:
Use data from multiple sources - Most companies already have plenty of data about their customers. The key is to bring it all together. This is particularly true across channels. Customers do not distinguish between mobile, web and phone, and neither should you. You need individual-level data to be able to personalise.
Be prepared to break down the silos and get people talking - The problem is often not a lack of data, but data being held in different places, by different people, and often not recognised as valuable. Break down the silos, and get people talking about what data they need, and how they want to use it. This is vital to getting the most out of customer information.
Keep your intelligence up to date - A model is only as good as its most recent data. Keeping your customer information refreshed and renewed is essential if your insights are to remain relevant. It is no good targeting someone three weeks after they have made a purchase.
Automate the right things - The key to automation is to automate the right things: the targeting and personalisation. These areas are done best by automated systems. Your segmentation, however, needs to include careful input from people, as this will build your model for automated marketing. Once you have done your segmentation, you can then automate your actions to fit.
Keeping it simple
Getting the customer experience right is actually fairly simple. At its heart is a knowledge of your customer, and an understanding of their needs, based on high quality data and reliable analytics and model-building. Get that right, and the rest will follow. Get it wrong, and you too will be in danger of demonstrating artificial stupidity.